Soapbox Sunday: Yes, Virginia, there is a Santa Claus

GWAS is going to be a lazy blogger (a day spent battling it out at the mall is enough to make any gal fatigued), so she's going to do a cut-and-paste job for today's Sunday Soapbox. See below the most reprinted newspaper editorial ever, written by newsman Francis Pharcellus Church in response to a letter to the editor written by 8-year-old Virginia O'Hanlon to the New York Sun in 1897:

DEAR EDITOR: I am 8 years old. Some of my little friends say there is no Santa Claus. Papa says, 'If you see it in THE SUN it's so.' Please tell me the truth; is there a Santa Claus?


VIRGINIA, your little friends are wrong. They have been affected by the skepticism of a skeptical age. They do not believe except [what] they see. They think that nothing can be which is not comprehensible by their little minds. All minds, Virginia, whether they be men's or children's, are little. In this great universe of ours man is a mere insect, an ant, in his intellect, as compared with the boundless world about him, as measured by the intelligence capable of grasping the whole of truth and knowledge.

Yes, VIRGINIA, there is a Santa Claus. He exists as certainly as love and generosity and devotion exist, and you know that they abound and give to your life its highest beauty and joy. Alas! how dreary would be the world if there were no Santa Claus. It would be as dreary as if there were no VIRGINIAS. There would be no childlike faith then, no poetry, no romance to make tolerable this existence. We should have no enjoyment, except in sense and sight. The eternal light with which childhood fills the world would be extinguished.

Not believe in Santa Claus! You might as well not believe in fairies! You might get your papa to hire men to watch in all the chimneys on Christmas Eve to catch Santa Claus, but even if they did not see Santa Claus coming down, what would that prove? Nobody sees Santa Claus, but that is no sign that there is no Santa Claus. The most real things in the world are those that neither children nor men can see. Did you ever see fairies dancing on the lawn? Of course not, but that's no proof that they are not there. Nobody can conceive or imagine all the wonders there are unseen and unseeable in the world.

You may tear apart the baby's rattle and see what makes the noise inside, but there is a veil covering the unseen world which not the strongest man, nor even the united strength of all the strongest men that ever lived, could tear apart. Only faith, fancy, poetry, love, romance, can push aside that curtain and view and picture the supernal beauty and glory beyond. Is it all real? Ah, VIRGINIA, in all this world there is nothing else real and abiding.

No Santa Claus! Thank God! he lives, and he lives forever. A thousand years from now, Virginia, nay, ten times ten thousand years from now, he will continue to make glad the heart of childhood.

See how powerful positive editorial can be!

Let's hope the world's women's magazine editors are encouraged to help make the lives of women – both their readers and those residing outside the revered A-B demographic – more enriched, meaningful and hopeful in 2008.

Yours truly,
Girl With a Satchel

Soapbox Sunday: Go smug yourself

There's a disease infecting the hearts and minds of sophisticated city-folk, upwardly mobile urbanites and Byron-dwelling, yoga-devotee, rat-race dropouts across our nation, and it's having a drastic effect on human relations. Yes, people, smugness is rife, causing our colleagues to gloat, our friends to roll their eyes and the culture critics to point the finger.

From the SHE (Smug Healthy Eater) who casts an accusatory eye over your peanut buttered toast in the office kitchen before merrily chopping up her apple and kiwi fruit, to the all-knowing, newly minted exercise fanatic who lost 5kgs by taking up running ("You should do it too!"), and the time-frittering, friend-accumulating Facebook and MySpace loving Techno Smuggers, we have become consumed with self-confidence, fueled by our ability to consume information at supersonic speed, digest it, apply the parts we believe to be beneficial to our lives (or uproariously entertaining to our unique senses of humour) and happily share our newly acquired expertise/knowledge with any friend, family member, colleague or passer-by within ear shot. We've been slimed, Punk'd and fugged – and now we're being smugged ("I can't believe she smugged me!")

The Oxford Dictionary defines smug (adj) as the state of being irritatingly pleased with oneself and/or self-satisfied. Varying strains of smugness have infiltrated our lives and loved ones – technological, spiritual, political, material, marital, intellectual, musical, geographical, sexual – and it seems the more time one dedicates to refining his or her smugness, the less likable he/she becomes. The Smug-Busters must be called in, toting their humble-pie machines, before it's too late!

For the SHE (a term used in this month's Women's Healththe magazine for female health smuggers; self included), it's almost painful to walk through a food court without wishing to extol the virtues of eating protein-packed salads to those Maccas-munching mums and kiddies; for the marital smugger, single people become projects to be worked on; for the spiritual smugger, particularly newly-minted Christian folk, it's hard to hold back on the Bible bashing when you seek to save others from their seemingly meaningless and material lives (which is not to undermine this worthy cause; I could evangelise till the cows come home).

Perfectionists are the most irritating smuggers of all, such is their devotion to refining every aspect of themselves and their lives (daily exercise, diet, intellect...), though most smuggers specialise in one area. The symptoms of the smugging affected include gloating, a blinkered world view, a reluctance to be challenged, unfettered self-confidence and a fondness for sharing information, even when unwarranted. A failure to see one's own faults is an ugly side-effect.

Smugging has infiltrated popular culture, too, with bloggers, TV producers and book publishers all packaging and commercialising smugness for our consumption. Perez Hilton uses his contacts and 'takes one to know one' smugging power to out homosexual celebrities; the lovely lasses behind Go Fug Yourself delight in the fashion foibles of red carpet regulars; Trinny and Susannah take the common woman and spruce her using their smug knowledge of style; The Chaser boys use charisma and a dash of cockiness to tear down the pollies...

There's no doubt smug can be funny. And a little self-assured smugness is needed if one is to have the confidence to pursue his or her goals. But when the stench of smug hangs over a family gathering, coffee date with a friend or workplace chat, it can become toxic. The smugger is like an irritating fly that buzzes about making judgments about your every movement under the guise of a 'friendly suggestion' or makes you feel complicit in an evil scheme to undermine the upwardly mobile and, thus, the progress of the nation/world ("What, you don't have a Facebook page?!")

Whether you're a music or film buff, a nutritional nut, happily married, a social queen or Prada-toting fashionista, smug can be avoided with a little self-deprecating humour, the ability to bite one's tongue when an opinion has not been sought and a bit of self-reflection. It can also be avoided by using one's smug potential for good (i.e. helping those with a deficit in some area – financial, spiritual, intellectual – with a genuine desire to see change and improvement in people; not simply for the glorification of one's own superiority).

Do we want to be known as smugly pains-in-the-butt or a friendly little helpers?

Yours truly,
Girl With a Satchel

P.S. GWAS realises she is totally complicit in smugly behaviour, given her preference for certain intellectually superior/aesthetically appealing magazines over others. But there's a fine line between smug and plain old good taste.*

* Jokes!

Sportsgirl rewind

One of the pivotal moments in my teenage existence involved arriving at my first high school mufty day (i.e. plain clothes/non-uniform) in my mother's oversized red woolly jumper and black stirrup leggings. I think I was attempting to channel Christina Applegate in Don't Tell Mum The Babysitter's Dead or something, but I just looked like a 13-year-old version of my mum swimming in a sea of itchy wool. The other girls wore tencil jeans, Sportsgirl logo t-shirts or flannel shirts, Timberland boots and looked like a cross between Brooke Shields in those Calvin ads and Dolly cover model Alison Brahe, who was a big deal back then.

It was all very preppy, trendy and sporty. Needless to say, the experience was traumatising (as these things are for sensitive teen girls who've migrated from Brisbane, which was pretty bogan back then, to sophisticated old Sydney). I pleaded with my mother to take me to Sportsgirl, where nothing really fit (size 6 didn't register back then and I was underdeveloped in every way), but my teen identity crisis was saved. Sportsgirl made shopping super-easy with their mixy-matchy outfits and gave me the confidence to attend all future mufty days (until it got very uncool some time in the mid-90s, at least).

These days, with its revamped image, catwalk-to-store-floor trend imitations and reasonable price point, Sportsgirl still exists as a kind of service for the fashion-clueless, as well as fashion obsessed young things who invest the majority of their weekly income in the thrill of lunch-time shopping binges. Like Topshop, H&M, Miss Selfridge and, arguably, Zara (which is really more on par with Witchery), Sportsgirl is a one-stop-shop for the every girl. Sportsgirl stores now stock makeup, walls of accessories, books and gifts, in addition to skirts, tops, shorts, pants, dresses, handbags and shoes. You can't go wrong – as my sister noted after style-stalking two teen girls on Saturday night, it's easy for PYTs to get it right with the likes of Sportsgirl (and, of course, those brilliant teen magazines) as a guide.

On that note, Sportsgirl has its own magazine, which I hastily pick up anytime I'm in store just for the novelty of getting something in print (that's not a bill) for FREE. The latest edition is 'The Silverscreen Issue', which is printed on thick matte stock and smells like an old book store. It includes items from the Rewind collection, which harks back to the early 90s, a selection of gift ideas which includes Nylon's beauty reference guide, Pretty, a list of suggested 'must see movies' (Taxi Driver, The Ice Storm, Cinderella, Easy Rider, Pretty in Pink, Risky Business, Paris Texas...), makeup tips from Jodi Oliver (she made up Cate Blanchett for the cover of December Harper's Bazaar), and three summery shoots (two of which are celebrity/screen icon-themed) styled and shot on the Gold Coast (the same summer holiday haven I shall be departing for soon).

Check it online at Ah, memories.

Yours truly,
Girl With a Satchel

Soapbox Sunday: Pride's in the pudding

There's a lot of rhetoric being bandied about in the press about the opportunity for Australia to redefine itself with a new Government in power. We took a collective risk in voting in Rudd and co., though the overwhelming sentiment was that the time for change had come... or, at least, for Howard to step aside.

Glen Milne wrote in today's Sunday Telegraph:
"Mr Howard, former Deputy Prime Minister Mark Vaile and former treasurer Peter Costello all represented the epitome of what was once seen as the traditional middle class Australian family... In the case of John Howard, his championing of the family unit in both a policy and symbolic sense was legendary. The former Prime Minister saw the family as the glue that kept society together."

Hugh Mackay wrote in the Sun-Herald:
"We found ourselves thinking more about the state of society than the state of the economy... Even the concept of a sustainable future was being seen more as a moral issue than an economic question. Kyoto, Iraq, AWB, WorkChoices, Aboriginal reconciliation, refugees... They symbolised the idea that, this time, we were more interested in national pride than fatter wallets."

What will Australia look like under the leadership of Rudd? By outing a government that represented economic stability, conservatism and family values, we have left the door wide open for those now in leadership (and what a mixed lolly bag they are) to create the Australia of their imaginations. Ratifying the Kyoto Protocol and withdrawing troops from Iraq are but the first symbolic steps in Labor's plan. But while Little Johnny's values were plain and clear for all to see, what does Rudd really stand for? We know he is a conservative, perhaps more so than new Liberal leader Brendan Nelson, but what of the man behind the suit?

Back in 1995, Rudd, then Shadow Minister for Foreign Affairs, was interviewed on ABC TV's Compass. According to the transcript, Rudd grew up in country Queensland in a religious family who did it tough. His father died in a car accident when he was 11. The family relied on charity and relatives to survive. His mother was "very much in that old style Queensland rural Catholic CWA (Country Women's Association) tradition", being one of service to others:

"When you see people in strife, I cannot be indifferent to that because that's the way I've been brought up. And I've given that as an adult form of political expression called the Australian Labor Party, which is, by the way, as flawed and as failed as I am. But we try."

While the family values espoused by Howard are all well and good, they still essentially turn our focus inward (Backyard Blitz wasn't popular during his term for no reason) – it's an insular, but admirable and traditional, way to look at the world; to look out for one's own family first. What if we were to, say, embrace the concept of 'loving thy neighbour', thereby looking out to the wider community and asking 'How can I help?' or 'How can I best service my country?' or 'How can I give back?'. To whom much is given, much is expected.

There are, of course, many people in this country already doing that – and the evidence is everywhere right now ('tis the season!), from The Choir of Hard Knocks to the people collecting money for the homeless on the streets to Good Weekend, which featured a brilliant story on Saturday titled 'The Kindness of Strangers' (if you missed it, try to get your hand on a copy). It's one of the most inspirational stories I've read in a while, and demonstrates how ultimately fulfilling a life lived in service of others can be. Each of the prominent charity figures profiled, from Elaine Henry (CEO of The Smith Family), to Robert Tickner (Secretary General, The Australian Red Cross) and Toby Hall (CEO of Mission Australia) had something profound to say about what drove them to a life less ordinary (and financially secure).

For Henry, a childhood memory of a disadvantaged girl bullied at school still resonates deeply with her: "She was different from the rest of us and – well, we were not kind... I hope to God that she made it, that there was someone who was kinder to her than we schoolgirls were."

Hall was once a successful banker whose focus was on making life better for him and his wife: "I was about 24 or 25 when I started feeling there was an emptiness to it all," he said. After studying for an MBA he worked in community development, where he came across 'social outcasts': "Society writes people off. It says you're done for – you don't get a second chance... It struck me that this was the kind of world we live in... The joy of seeing someone's life change is immense. I've never met anyone who has given, who has turned around and said, 'I regretted doing that."

Tickner describes how a near-fatal car accident when he was 18 – he almost killed a good friend – had a huge impact on his thinking about what really counts in life. The "footprint" you leave behind being more important than anything. He says: "We sometimes don't give enough of ourselves to others, in the sense of telling people that they're appreciated or supported. We don't say thanks enough. We don't praise enough. To me, those are also acts of giving."

How right he is. Not all of us are in a position where we can take over the leadership of a major charitable organisation, but our lives can be defined by the same values – compassion, kindness, goodness, peace and the will to serve others. Whether that means dressing up in a Santa suit, shipping off to a third-world country, serving Christmas pudding to the elderly, donating a portion of our income charity, writing positive stories to encourage others, or just living with the kind of purpose and passion that inspires other people to make the most out of their lives is, of course, up to you.

There's a check-out chick at my local Woolworths store who constantly amazes me with her positive attitude – she's worked there for years, being promoted to a senior managerial role, while also studying for her degree in nursing, volunteering at the local hospital and making mortgage repayments with her boyfriend. She always smiles, always asks how I am and is only too happy to meet the demands of customers. She's made the choice to live by a set of values that makes the world a more pleasant place. She gives of herself and expects nothing back (like a tax cut) in return.

I only hope that in his four-year term Rudd can inspire a nation to do the same – I'd like to have some pride with my pudding this Christmas.

Yours truly,
Girl With a Satchel

Gilbert upstages Oprah; Richard rocks

So, to celebrate my first official day as a freelance writer, I watched Oprah over lunch (assuming this is the kind of caper freelance writers get up to). Today's interviewee was Elizabeth Gilbert – she of Eat, Pray, Love fame ('cause the book really needs some more publicity – only every woman on the planet, including Yours Truly, has read it, and more often than not loved it; but I suppose that there is the interest factor).

Gilbert is more Oprah than Oprah, I swear. Everything that came out of her mouth was so perfectly Zen/spiritual/profound ("I am the master of myself"), it was like she was reading from a script. She's quite charismatic, and she uses just the right amount of self-deprecation, confession and humour to keep you from thinking she's just another author riding the gravy train. That said, she'll probably have her own show soon. After all, Oprah has never had a deep 'God experience' like Gilbert's (more on that soon), and Gilbert has found happiness and a husband.

A former magazine journalist (SPIN, GQ, The New York Times Magazine, Allure...) who once worked at Coyote Ugly Saloon (incidentally, that fabulous film is based on a memoir piece she wrote about working there for GQ), Gilbert is an attractive blonde with a prominent nose (here's to chicks with prominent noses – self included!), with glossy, perfect skin – unless they're using some kick-ass filtering mechanism filming Oprah (durr, of course they are!). Then again, she is only in her early 30s. Her eye makeup was quite spectacular (a little golden shadow; a lot of mascara), her teeth a bit uneven, lips thin, and her facial expressions and body language were open and expressive. She's instantly warm and likable.

Oprah asserted her celebrity power at the beginning of the show by name-dropping Maria Shriver – "My good friend Maria Shriver gave me this book" – before gushing about how many women have found solace in the book's pages. Though Gilbert says she wrote the book for herself (um, didn't a book deal fund your trip?), its contents have struck a chord with unhappy women, or those who are searching for something deeper than The Devil Wears Prada, the world over. Women ADORE this book. It's almost Biblical. And every reader feels like an apostle whose job is to make sure the 'Gilbert word' is passed on. I was having my hair done when I first started the book and the lady seated next to me caught a glimpse of the cover and told me how she'd bought it for her daughter and close friends, and that it was the best read she'd had all year. I was a few months off getting married (joy!), so the book didn't resonate as well with me (hello, Runaway Bride!) but I could appreciate where Gilbert was at – been there; done that, though without the divorce papers. I think there's a little Gilbert in all of us. Especially the highly strung, ambitious, neurotic, mildly selfish, perfectionist, spiritual-seeking type of 'us'.

The show started with Gilbert talking about the bathroom floor incident the book opens with. As the story goes, Gilbert lost the plot at three in the morning, collapsing onto the bathroom floor in a flood of tears alone, while her soon-to-be-divorced husband slept. Her dilemma was that she was not living the life she wanted to live; though the life she was living was quite nice, thank you. She didn't want babies – didn't want to progress down that hackneyed path of settling down before she was ready, and staying in an unhappy marriage just to keep everyone else happy: "My life no longer resembled me," she told Oprah. "I felt like a squirrel in a box... [but] I never got the memo that said you're not allowed to become the hero of your own life's journey." Pure Oprah GOLD. The night of the bathroom incident, Gilbert started to pray to God, which becomes one of the book's central themes, but not before she eats herself fat in Italy (durr, Eat Pray Love!).

Gilbert talked about tuning into her inner voice, the divine ("Now when I look back on it, it's clear some divine hand was guiding [me] because the order [of her journey; of the book!] was so perfect"), meditation ("One of the great teachings that I learned in India is that silence is the only true religion") and how we're afraid of silence ("We set our lives up so that we do not need to be with ourselves").

The highlight was when they introduced Richard from Texas (he's real!). What a legend, seriously. It was so refreshing to hear his voice in the book – the voice of someone cool, calm, all-knowing, rational – and get a break from Gilbert's neurosis for a second (granted, spending time in my brain would drive someone equally as mad). It didn't really dawn on him, though he knew she was writing a book, that she was recording almost everything he said to her: "I didn't realise talking to a writer who's writing a book is like talking to a reporter." On Richard, Gilbert said: "The main thing was that he took all these super esoteric, ancient Indian yogic ideas and boiled them down into these simple, Texas, pragmatic sort of mantras for me that I could digest."

I can't help but wonder if Richard isn't a little ticked off that she basically profited (in a BIG way) from his wisdom – the chapter on India, after all, is pretty much a conversation between them; and we learn more from him than her. Perhaps Gilbert and Richard can cut an Oprah/Dr Phil type deal?

While in India, Gilbert had her real God experience: "It was very brief. It was also very eternal. It was as though the scales fell from my eyes and the openings of the universe were shown to me. What I felt was pure, divine, eternal, knowing, compassionate love, and it was obvious...". As someone who has had a couple of quite deep interactions with God in the past two years, I can relate (though in the Christian church they'd call it 'being filled with the holy spirit' or something). And you do want to hold onto that feeling forever... and then your mind takes over. But if you can retain some of that feeling – that inner warmth/peace/knowing – and remember that incident, you're a changed person. And I think it can happen to everyone on their own terms... in their own sweet time.

After India was Bali, where Gilbert was told to just "sit and smile" by her medicine man and found love in the arms of a Brazilian man who could tame her mind as well as her body. He brought relief to her aching mind and soul... he nurtured her and loved her. In a way, he saved her... from herself. A bit fairy-tale like, huh.

Gilbert says she gets a lot of women asking her how they go about doing what she did. She tells them that they need to find their own path; that her journey was and is not for everyone (as much as we'd all love to go to Italy and eat pizza for four months). She failed to mention not everyone is going to get funded by a major publisher to take a year off to find themselves – or run away from the ickyness of their divorce under the guise of a 'leap of faith'. Luck, if not God, Ms. Gilbert, is definitely on your side. On a positive note, to end with, Gilbert offered Oprah's viewers three life-altering tips:

1. Ask yourself "What do I really, really, really want?" and answer it truthfully: "to be happy" is not legit.
2. Start a gratitude journal and write about something you're thankful for each day, then look back on it to find the consistencies.
3. Refine your self-loathing mantra. "Whatever you repeat constantly in your head is your mantra," says Gilbert. "So if you're repeating, 'I'm a moron, I'm an idiot, I'm a failure, I'm a jerk, I'm a loser', it's your mantra. So decide whether that's working for you [laughs all round]... maybe you might want to choose a different thing to say..."

How very Oprah.

Yours truly,
Girl With a Satchel

Pics c/o

Soapbox Sunday: Infidelity sucks

One of the women who attends my Jazzercise class (yes, Jazzercise – I admit it) is about to go through an ugly divorce. Her husband (a.k.a. The Bastard) confessed to having an affair with his 30-year-old assistant three months ago (my friend is in her 50s). They'd been married 26 years. But his penis got the better of him.

This revelation significantly increased my imaginary punching-bag power during class – I worked up a real sweat being angry at a man who I've never met. Couldn't he see what he was losing? After all, my friend is the type of person I want to be when I grow up: she's uproariously funny, witty and cool (y'know, for a mum), and the type of cynical that makes you laugh, not depressed. She's as close to a real-life version of the mum, Lois, from Malcolm in the Middle I've met. And wasn't she a top sort of chick – in a manic, control-freak kind of way?

At hearing the news, I said how sorry I was and that he should, of course, be shot and publicly shamed. For a tough lady, she's really hurting, though does a good job of looking chipper despite having Her Whole World Collapse Around Her (on that note: Kerrie Armstrong did a fantastic job of portraying a wife betrayed in Lantana, no? Dignity and a side-serving of screw-you.)

My friend and her husband were supposed to grow old together. And he pulled the proverbial life-rug out from under her feet. He also took away their holiday homes (nice problem to have, I know; these are not cash-poor people), given he and his mistress/The Adultress fornicated at both of them (why, oh, why did you have to do it there?!). Listening to her divulge some of the sordid details was like watching an episode of Californication (BTW, I'm no prude, but this show disturbs me much).

Unfortunately, my friend's story is not unique. In an article titled 'Calling it quits: women act early but men take ages' (The Australian, March 1, 2007), demographer Bernard Salt says that after age 50 "baby boomer men finally drag their sorry fat backsides off the couch and into action. In fact, after 30 years of marriage, 55 per cent of single applications for divorce are filed by men." Salt reasons that, unlike women who like to terminate dead-end marriages in the early stages while they are still "young and beautiful", male logic reasons there's "plenty of time to pick up a trophy wife later in life."

Apparently sports cars, ski trips and boys' weekends (not to mention their gorgeous families) aren't enough to satiate Baby Boomer men during their mid-life crises (or mid-life crises #2) – they need trophy girlfriends, too. So they put their insecurity issues on their wives' expense accounts and cheat. Which is not to say women are exempt (the Bureau of Statistics says 40 per cent of divorces are sought by the wife, while 29.5 per cent are sought by the husband – the rest are mutual agreements; and a study of high-earning couples by US firm Prince & Associates, as reported by Susan Maushart in The Weekend Australian Magazine, found that 61 per cent of wealthy wives had taken lovers, compared to 43 per cent of men) but if this were to become a popular and 'normalised' trend, like Californication meets Desperate Housewives in the real world, what hope is there for young marriages? Where is the positive role modelling? Where are the morals? Is monogamy in danger, as Maushart suggests in her column ("there is nothing natural about monogamy")? Sunday Life reported today that French (ah, yes, those liberal-minded Frenchies) company Ibila is in the business of providing alibis for cheating spouses, including receipts from fake restaurants and parking tickets. Cheaters are being marketed to!

During the brief chat with my friend, I said I was grateful my husband is a devout Christian and would rather poke his eyes out with scissors than betray our marriage (and God) – to which she replied she wished their household had had more Christian morals (and no doubt thought, "you have much to learn, honey"). But being 'people of faith' doesn't really mean we're "safe" does it? Husband does have eyes and a willy, after all.

As a newlywed who's not entirely naive, I'm all too aware of how persuasive a newer/younger/sexually charged model can look to a man when his wife's too tired to put out and lives in her chocolate-stained tracksuit. It's exhausting just thinking of the work that goes into keeping your marriage alive/on fire; it makes scoring a bloke look like child's play. But while the feminist in me is all "why should I have to work so hard to please you and get your attention and shave my legs on a semi-regular basis; I have my own thing going on and you should respect that, and if you really had respect for me, you wouldn't be looking to stray anyway...", I do often think there are certain things a wife must do to ensure her husband doesn't stray (as best she can: there is no stopping a real dog of a man from cheating, even on the most gorgeous wife): like grooming, exercising, paying him adequate attention, meeting his needs for sex, bolstering his ego, etc (heck, you've read The Rules). It's pretty much a full-time job – God forbid you should bring caring for children into the equation (Sophie Lee paints an impeccable portrait of those challenges in her Sunday magazine column). But what if you do all this – invest all this energy/money in spousal maintenance – and the bugger does the dirty anyway?

What are the real safeguards? And what about the majority of marriages that do last the distance – what are those people doing so right?

I think the answer has to be something along the lines of selflessness, sacrifice, respect, patience, being kind to one another, two-way communication and honesty. Husband and I have a rule in our marriage that if one of us feels an attraction to someone else, no matter how fleeting it may be, we will voice it (ouch!). Because, as they say, from little things big things grow. Best to nip them in the bud; then make him pay for bruising your ego by taking you shopping for a new handbag/shoes/diamond ring.

It might also help if you keep a check on any hot nannies/assistants/secretaries.

Marriage is a humbling experience.

Yours truly,
Girl With a Satchel

Media images vs girl talk

No doubt you've seen the Dove 'Onslaught' video on YouTube or some other blog (and read the comments about Unilever, which owns the Dove brand, being hypocritical in the messages it sends out), but today I was checking out the Bust magazine website, on which the comments went nuts over the Dove clip, and it prompted me to think:

Which media images had the most effect on my perception of beauty and femininity growing up and are my memories of them positive or negative?

A list of movies, models, film clips and magazine shoots ran through my head (in no specific order)...

- She's Out of Control, the 1989 movie about a 15-year-old girl (Katie) who gets a makeover (braces are removed, glasses are replaced with contact, new clothes are bought) and becomes the most popular girl in town – I distinctly remember the opening scene where Katie is madly exercising in her bedroom listening to crazy 80s music on her headphones.
- Tanned, tall, blonde surfer girls in ads for Billabong and Rip Curl.
- Krissy and Niki Taylor in my Dolly and Girlfriend magazines. Blonde, tall, toned, smiley, lush-lipped, big white teeth – they were perfection personified (till Krissy passed away that is).
- Alicia Silverstone in Clueless.
- A bikini shoot in either Dolly or Girlfriend magazine where the model was pictured sitting under a palm tree. I distinctly remember her long, curly brown hair, light tan, ample boobs and the curves of her hips – they were the most beautiful curves I'd ever seen. I wanted curves!
- Pamela Anderson and Yasmine Bleeth in Baywatch – how 'bout them curves!
- Mariah Carey dancing amongst the daises in tiny denim shorts and pigtails in the
"Dreamlover" film clip (Jessica Simpson, eat your heart out).
- The supermodels, in all their (relatively) full-bodied, catwalking glory: Helena, Naomi, Cindy, Linda, Christy...
- Linda Kozlowski in Crocodile Dundee.
- Christina Applegate in Don't Tell Mum the Babysitter's Dead.
- Letitia Casta in ads for Guess? jeans.
- a very young Katherine Heigl in My Father the Hero playing Gerard Depardieu's daughter (can you believe that was her?)

Mostly these girls had curves and smiles on their faces – and no police records. They were healthy-beautiful, not emaciated-skinny. They made me want to look like a woman, not a 10-year-old. And I still got messed up about food!

Seventeen magazine is the latest to jump on the love-your-body bandwagon (arguably started by Mia Freedman way back in the 90s – '97, I believe, as this year Cosmo celebrates 10 years of 'Body Love'), launching a campaign with Dove called "Body Peace Project", which is designed to help girls appreciate their shapes and "stop stressing over the beauty industry's preferred standards."

As a writer for a teen mag who's spent a good deal of time talking up 'Self Respect', I find myself at a crossroads. There is an obesity epidemic in this country, while around 2 per cent of women are suffering eating disorders. To what extent should teen and tween girls be made aware of how to maintain a healthy weight and to what extent should they be told to love their bodies just the way they are? What is the happy medium?

When I packed on the puppy fat aged 15/16, after ditching ballet class for boozey parties and Maccas meals, the only people who really mentioned the weight gain were an aunt (who poked my stomach), a ballet mistress (typical!) and my mum (something about looking "stocky" as a tried on bikinis). But when I lost the weight in my final year of school (I can't remember if I was on a diet, per se), all the girls at school came out and said how great I looked, which left me thinking, "Thanks, I didn't realise I looked so crap before!" In my head, weight loss then became associated with girl-approval. I don't remember any specific media images that affected me as much as comments made by those around me.

On some magazines, this high-school like culture of complimenting women on their weight loss is rife. A colleague told me today that on one women's mag, "You look so ano!" is one of the highest compliments one can be paid. A couple of years ago, the same could be said of the magazine I work on (compliments always focused on how thin you were looking – and self-deprecation verbalised in terms of how fat you were feeling was common) but 12 months ago we decided to practise what we preach by stamping out such body-talk in the office (which is not to say we don't talk obsessively about food; in a 'give me a slice of that cake!' way). This may sound a little Stepford Wives, but the office has become a really wonderful place to work, free from the scent of guilt and negativity. We still go crazy-stupid when someone shows up wearing a new Sass & Bide skirt or sporting a funky new fringe, but the image-related compliments aren't weight or body specific. Coz there's more to all of us than what the scales reflect. I wonder if the team at Seventeen will follow suit?

Comments on Dove, health education versus positive reinforcement via 'body love' concepts, the influence of media versus your immediate friends/family on your self-image, and girl culture that encourages weight loss, if you have the time/inkling. Thanks!

Yours truly,
Girl With a Satchel

P.S. I'm making my way through Madison, UK Elle and Women's Health at the moment – expect reviews over the next few days.

P.P.S. Still can't believe that was the gorgeous Katherine Heigl who played the bitchy Nicole in My Father the Hero – must rent it out this weekend!

Busy bees need crutches

Oh, the sweet taste of irony.

On Sunday I read 'Put your feet up' by Paul Connolly in Sunday Life magazine, and today I found myself, once again, reluctantly putting my feet (okay, foot) up. After spraining my ankle in 'The Skipping Rope Incident' of Monday night, I took a trip-and-turn for the worst last night and wound up on crutches today. I have never had an injury of this kind (though I did always covet the casts and crutches of kids in primary school who were lucky enough to actually break something) – and I'm none to happy about being laid up.

Back to the irony part... the Sunday Life story examined the guilt we feel when we're not working or achieving something or being 'busy', as we all say, and why said guilt is hindering our ability to kick up our feet, enjoy the stillness, relax, smell the roses and find happiness.

"We've fallen victim to a culture of busy-ness, where people feel there's something wrong if they aren't busy. Consequently, many of us find it hard to relax in the first place," Paul Shepanski of Relationships Forum Australia told Connolly. "We're trapped in a cycle of making money and spending it."

Ah-ha, says Connolly: "If our working hours don't cut into our 'free time' significantly enough, consider, too, the long commute; the BlackBerry that beeps on weekends; the mobile phones that are always done; and the chores that need doing around the house."

Connolly goes on to reference Tom Hodgkinson, the British author of How To be Idle and How To Be Free, French economist (we all know the French love their free time) Corinne Maire, who wrote Hello Laziness: Why Hard Work Doesn't Pay, and Canadian writer Carl Honore, author of In Praise of Slow, who all promote idleness as a way of life. Hodgkinson says it's "only conditioning that makes us feel guilty when we sleep in; when we linger over a lunch eaten away from our desks; or when we slip out of the office early (or on time)."

Conditioning coupled with society and employer expectations, I think. Many of us find it hard to wind down from work weeks run on the adrenaline of pressure and expectation. Though employers have been championing 'work/life balance' practises through their HR departments for years, in some companies, and industries, ambition and dedication, as signified by consistently working overtime, are entrenched.

This is rife in the magazine industry, which is dominated by women. One Australian magazine editor is very well known for her past indiscretions relating to employees who were so bold as to leave on time (these young women would chuck their handbags across the floor and crawl past her office lest they be detected). Elsewhere in the industry, young writers, editors and designers slave away at their desks till well after sundown, on relatively pitiful pay packets, to meet tight deadlines and attract the approval of their seniors. Which is not to say all editors are Miranda Priestly-type characters who put the fear of God in their underlings – most of the Aussie editors I know, or have known, are driven and hard working but nice as pie. And many of the women who work in the industry are perfectionists who'd rather stay late, or come in while suffering head colds and gastro, than hand in sub-standard work, thus imposing impossibly high standards, requiring hours of dedicated work, on themselves. Working like a dog can also be highly addictive – if we're not buzzing about, we feel lost. We are loathe to give ourselves a break.

But how do we unwind on weekends? When does the work stop? After hours our diaries are crammed with social engagements (beauty editors are known to spend at least three weeknights at industry functions) and plans to exercise, while our weekends are full of the same, in addition to household chores and family commitments. Even 'mental health days', encouraged by some Aussie employers, are often spent madly running errands. Busy, busy, busy!

Is it not crazy that we've no time to chill out? Do we even know how? I honestly can't remember the last time I spent a day relaxing that didn't involve some kind of activity, like reading, writing or shopping. Is the only option to book a week in Bali to get away from it all? Or to quit work and move to Byron?

I think busyness, and work-guilt, is definitely conditioned, and it's unhealthy. I have always felt hugely guilty whenever sickness or plain old fatigue has prevented me from missing work (I've been known to take a morning off, then dose up with pain killers and trudge into the office to appease said guilt). And though I attend church most Sundays, they're far from the days of rest the Bible prescribes – there are social pages to be read, friends to be met, loads of washing to throw on...

I can't even imagine what being a working woman with a family would be like!

Methinks the whole ankle twisting event (not least 'cause it's happened twice in one week) is a clear sign from God that I should spend less time frittering my life away being 'busy' – 'cause 'busy' isn't necessarily 'good' or productive. In fact, sometimes I find myself cramming my days just to escape some of the big-picture questions looming over my life (i.e. Where to next? What does God want me to do with my life? Am I really happy?).

Now I've been forced into period of relaxation and introspection, I'm finally going to give myself a break. Plenty of time to contemplate life's bigger questions, and think over how I want to spend my days (more time with Husband, etc.) and live my life! As a very wise magazine journo said in an email to me today: "Manifest your ideal working conditions so that the universe can commence its magic." Ahh, busy is in the eye of the beholder.

Yours truly,
Girl With a Satchel

P.S. It is so typical that there are No New Magazines at my newsagent to read while I'm laid up like a drunken soldier! I am on a mission to hunt down the new Nylon...

Yes, ladies, we owe something to women's magazines

Did you ever read 'Yes, Virginia, there is a Santa Claus?', the choke-me-up-like-a-funeral reply from New York Sun editor Francis Pharcellus Church to Virginia O'Hanlon's question of Saint Nick's validity? Well, for some reason (possibly because there are Christmas decorations on display at my supermarket... in October), this piece in today's Daily Mail, about the new book, Can Any Mother Help Me? by Jenna Bailey, reminded me a little of that letter.

The book is essentially about how a group of women driven to lives of domesticity in the 40s and 50s, formed a correspondence club out of boredom and isolation, which gave them a creative outlet for articulate writing, validated their right to an opinion and helped them form an identity outside their often unhappy marriages. The letter that got the ball rolling, addressed to Nursery World magazine, read:

"Can any mother help me? I live a very lonely life, as I have no near neighbours, I cannot afford to buy a wireless. I adore reading, but with no library am very limited with books... I have had a rotten time, and been cruelly hurt, both physically and mentally, but I know it is bad to brood and breed hard thoughts and resentments. Can any reader suggest an occupation that will intrigue me and exclude "thinking" and cost nothing! A hard problem, I admit."

From this letter, the Cooperative Correspondence Club (CCC), edited by 'Ad Astra' (all the contributors used pen names) was born, which the Guardian describes as "somewhere between a round-robin newsletter and a fully fledged magazine". The printed material was circulated on a fortnightly basis, rather like a zine – its "handwritten articles sewn together and slipped between homemade decorative linen covers." The secret publication allowed the women to share recipes, indulge in sex talk, disclose marriage troubles, voice opinions about the war and encourage each other. Some of the quotes in the book, of the women's struggles, resonate even today: "I had never cooked a meal or ironed a shirt in my life when I got married..." (me too!).

Sometimes we are harsh on women's magazines because they fail to make us feel good about our credit card debt/complicated love lives/wobbly thighs (sigh, Jane made us feel okay about all those things) and sell their readers to advertisers to make money, but we forget that they have been a sort of secret sorority for women-kind, where no man dare venture, where we can indulge our love of frivolous things, such as $500 shoes, stationery to match our office space and risotto recipes, express our opinions (if only in the letters pages), vent, read news and reviews relevant to our lives, keep informed about wordly issues and share stories of battles with illness, post-natal depression, lost loved ones and affairs. They aim to relate to us, educate us and inspire us. And, despite their penchant for over-exposed celebrities and dieting stories, they are still very much a part of the modern female discourse (and, heck, this blog would be a little light on content if they weren't utterly fascinating to read).

Yours truly,
Girl With a Satchel

I saw Stardust...

GWAS took Husband to see Stardust last night, after convincing him that it definitely wasn't a chick flick.

After reading reviews which compared the film to The Princess Bride (which, to my horror, is now 20 years old!), I was hopeful, 'cause that film is, like, my Favourite All Time Film. I first saw TPB when I was seven or eight, and have watched it about ten zillion times since... I can recite most of it word for word. I have the DVD. I made Husband's entire family watch it so that they might develop a similar appreciation for the greatness that is The Princess Bride before we got married. It is that important to my being.

What made TPB such a special movie was its subtle satire, witty dialogue, nail-biting action scenes (the sword fighting, the Fire Swamp, the Battle of Wits, the torture machine) and assorted strange characters (Fezzik the giant, Prince Humperdinck, Miracle Max). And I would have given my Barbie collection to be as beautiful as Princess Buttercup (Robin Wright Penn) or to be rescued by Westley (Cary Elwes), who was right up there with River Phoenix (Indiana Jones) and Corey Feldman (The Goonies) in the hot looks department. Sadly, Claire Danes and Sienna Miller put together are no Robin Wright Penn, and Charlie Cox is a bit dorky looking for my liking (though I do rather fancy Ben Barnes, who appears at the film's beginning – hello!). The dialogue is also weak and predictable. What quickly becomes apparent watching Stardust is that it not only references The Princess Bride – I found myself recognising scenes, special effects, characters and storylines from a host of other excellent films: The Neverending Story, Death Becomes Her, The Witches of Eastwick, Harry Potter, Pirates of the Caribbean, Priscilla Queen of the Desert, Titanic, The Lord of the Rings... Stardust is a virtual menagerie of film references. If it were a uni student, it might be expelled for plagiarism.

The highlights are Michelle Pfieffer's performance as a youth-hungry old witch (Claire Danes is likable but her character is given little to work with) and Robert De Niro as the cross-dressing ship captain (Jack Sparrow he is not but he adds a little Priscilla pizazz to the film).

Stardust is derivative with a capital D – to compare it to The Princess Bride is offensive – but it you're a sucker for a happy fairytale ending, like moi, or haven't seen The Princess Bride, you might leave the cinema with a starry-eyed glow.

Yours truly,
Girl With a Satchel

You gotta have faith

My mum and dad gave me everything a little girl could want – ballet lessons, a swimming pool, a Cabbage Patch Doll named Sally-Anne and a private school education (which I later rubbed their noses in by opting to attend a public school in my final two years of school). They had typically Baby Boomer values: working hard = financial security = happy. Then there was the 'recession we had to have' of '91/92 when those values were put to the test. A resultant job loss and subsequent divorce left me floundering – instability was the new stability.

Like many children of divorce, I became a sleuth of sorts, hanging onto any soundbites of information about what the heck was going on around me for dear life, piecing together the puzzle bit by bit and asking few questions. I'm not sure who or what I turned to for strength at that time (when you're 10, alcohol as a coping mechanism isn't an option), but I'm sure it was inside me. Or perhaps that's when I started to bury my head in books and magazines...?

Anyway, for all their caring and good deeds, the one thing my parents didn't give me was a solid spiritual framework from which to negotiate life's ups and downs – a relationship with God I could rely on when the going got tough. How are you to deal with the tough stuff when all you know is My Little Ponies and pool parties?

Sure, I went to Catholic schools, at mum's insistence (she be a Catholic, dad is Protestant), but I wasn't interested in the requisite religious studies (that was the time to scribble notes about boys to friends). Watching The Brides of Christ in year 10 probably had more influence on my perception of church and religion than any 40-minute tutorial by a teacher (a teacher whose sexuality my friends and I questioned, mind you). I did consider, for about five minutes, becoming a nun (laugh at will, dear friends).

We went to church, like many families, on religious holidays, like Good Friday, Easter Sunday and Christmas Day, but, even then, after The Divorce things got confusing (so, 'cause the Catholic church doesn't condone divorce, my mum's, like, excommunicated?), so we only ever attended church if a wedding was involved. I came to miss attending church, reflecting on that part of my life when my grandmother passed away in '97, but it didn't seem to be the done thing.

In Year 11, I decided I was a Pantheist after reading the work of poet Samuel Coleridge in English and going all surfer-girl (cue bleach blonde hair and tan). That was the last time I thought much about my 'religion', prior to meeting Husband. My university experience taught me to question everything from political parties, to the role of the media (4th estate and all that jazz), to the sacred canon of English texts, but not my faith. Not the big picture.

And so, like so many Gen-Yers, I found myself, in my early 20s floundering. I was searching for something deeper than a new lap-top, job promotion or boyfriend. I'd found some quietness within myself, after going through a phase of major anxiety and why-am-I-so-miserable, and I was confident and loving my work (oh, so important – as an aside, I watched a documentary on Grace Kelly yesterday: the poor woman lost it, joining some weird religious sect in Monaco in her later years, after the Palace forbade her to pursue her acting career – work be giving us purpose, people). But I needed a code to live by. A way to achieve deeper happiness and to feel connected to something bigger than the world.

Along came Husband. We argued for HOURS on end about his faith and my lack thereof. I was rational, smart and worldly... he was a Jesus freak. I was not easily won over, no no. He was handsome and all, but I was a critically thinking journalist, damnit. Over time, I came to see how his faith added a depth to his life that no amount of spending, accumulating, achieving or idolising could bring to mine. His family are devoted Christians of the Baptist church; he's non-denominational – a kind of on-the-road evangelical (he be riding motorbikes 50 feet into the air to show young kiddies how much fun you can have without drugs and alcohol). I didn't get a lot of the Christian jargon that was spoken at his church or within his family (it still gives me the irrits), but I could see what I was missing out on – deeper, meaningful, purposeful living. The stuff that could sustain you right into old age, should you so choose. Stuff that could strengthen you through divorce, financial struggles, illness and grief. This Jesus guy, right, makes Oprah, for all her wisdom, generosity, spiritual awareness and smarts, look amateurish.

These days kids look everywhere for a spiritual fix – it's like popping into Starbucks for a coffee, there are so many choices on offer. Buddhism, Hinduism, Scientology, meditation, yoga retreats, self-help books of every spiritual leaning... it's a veritable spiritual smorgasbord. But we're bored easily and skeptical. We'll try anything once. To cater to this restlessness, the craving for the new, for a quick spiritual fix, the Christian faith has a range of opportunities for interaction outside your standard Sunday mass – cafe churches, Bible study groups, one-on-one mentoring, Christian surfers, Christian radio, Christian TV, conferences, concerts, workshops, spiritual websites and blogs... pick and mix to suit your lifestyle. And next year, Christianity is coming to us [um, Sydney] in a big way via World Youth Day.

As a busy career gal, with work, friend, family, travel and new marriage commitments, I need to build flexibility into my faith interaction (though my faith itself is a stabilising force). I can't always make it to church, though I really enjoy going (mine is a relatively small, non-Hillsong-like establishment with a young night service crowd). Thankfully, the Bible is portable – I carry a small one in my handbag at all times for inspiration, consultation and guidance. I listen to sermons on Sydney Christian Radio and spend time sharing my experiences and grievances with those of similar spiritual leanings. And I pray. Every day.

Where does this leave me? I'm on a journey. My boomer parents aren't on the same one, though I think that, as they grow older, they'll begin to question why they've been so reticent to act on the spiritual hunger they hold within. I'm still enamoured by material things and am tempted by all the exciting/fleeting things the world has to offer (hello, magazine addict!), but I'm not content to just have nice clothes, a cool car and a whopping mortgage. Especially if a Labor government sends us into recession within the next 10 years... or the world is doomed 'cause we were too slow to react on global warming. While much is out of our control, what we choose to believe is definitely within our grasp.

Yours truly,
Girl With a Satchel

Do all good girls go bad?

I love Rihanna's catchy "Umbrella" tune. When it comes on Video Hits on a Saturday morning, I find myself ditching my breakfast to bust a move on front of the teev (hoping Husband will not get out of bed and see my enthusistic display). Despite it being totally danceable, the lyrics (co-written by Jay-Z and "The Dream") are also quite sweet:

"When the sun shines
We’ll shine together
Told you I'll be here forever
Said I'll always be your friend
Took an oath
I'mma stick it out 'till the end
Now that it's raining more than ever
Know that we still have each other
You can stand under my Umbrella..."

Despite the mushy lyrics, 'sweetness' isn't the first word that comes to mind when I see 19-year-old Rihanna artfully dancing around with her umbrella, dressed in fish-net stockings and black leather.

Miss Rihanna, whose album is titled Good Girl Gone Bad, isn't the first star to openly exploit her new-found sexuality by way of a provocative film clip. For Christina Aguilera it was "Dirrty"; for Britney "Slave 4 U". Rihanna's not breaking any ground here. But in the era of Bratz dolls and Pussycat Dolls, you've got to wonder what kind of message Rihanna's clip is sending out to young girls. Do grown girls all get around in their knickers? Will boys like me if I dance like a stripper?

Teen sexuality, and the way it's expressed, is a vexed issue – something parents fear, teachers gloss over and churches attempt to control. These days, it's further complicated by social networking systems. Back in the mid-90s, when I first started to notice boys, you would start hanging out on the basis of proximity (dating someone who lived close by or went to the same school), attraction (lack of facial acne = big plus) and general interest (they knew some of the same people or had a similar hobby). You'd meet boys at friends' parties, through their older brothers, in church youth groups (I suppose; back then I wasn't much of a church-goer), at the beach or on the school bus. These days kids hook up on the basis of MySpace profiles and pictures (which are often Photoshopped or posed provocatively).

The question of sex – when to start doing it, who with and why – is even more complex. Teen sexual experimentation is nothing new (just look at 1981 Bruce Beresford flick Puberty Blues). That's not to say the majority of teen girls aren't smart, carefully weighing up their decisions about when to 'go there' despite the pressures of raging hormones, more 'advanced' (or easily led) friends, and that all-encompassing quest to be cool. We also have groups of Christian teens pledging their virginity till marriage (and their parents sighing relief).

My own teens were a flurry of 'pash and dash's' and relationships with young boys who didn't know any better. Had my parents known what I was up to, I'm sure they would have locked me up in a tower Rapunzel-style. But you get away with a lot when your school results are good and you say 'please' and 'thank you'. In hindsight, had I established my own 'value code' earlier on (as you know, I rediscovered Christianity a few years ago now), and stuck to it, I would have saved myself a lot of heartache, regret, misdirected energy and misused brain space. Teen brains are oft not equipped to deal with the complications of intimacy.

The Saturday Sydney Morning Herald yesterday published a feature story on teen sex – 'Let's talk about sleepovers' by Julie Szego. According to the story, teens are 'claiming' each other, which is basically lay-bying someone you're interested in but shopping around on the side (it seems today's teens have too much choice, in every way, and bore easily). They're also embarking on sexual exploration earlier (the average 'first time' age now being 16).

The 'raunch culture' created by Paris Hilton and her posse, hip-hop film clips and singers like Rihanna, who quite literally wear their sexual desirability (think Fergie's midriff tops, Paris's thigh-scraping dresses and Britney's cleavage-enhancing halter tops) has definitely had an effect on girls. And the guys who date them. In the SMH story, one boy says: "Those [girls] who don't act raunchy and everything, well, it's not that they get ostracised, but people aren't as willing to go out with them to parties and stuff... It's a bit of a Catch-22 for girls; you're judged if you do things, and you're judged if you don't." Further in the article, a school counsellor says: "I've seen girls presenting themselves as promiscuous on their MySpace profile and then taking on that persona in reality... they'll change their behaviour to suit their profile if they think they're getting a lot of kudos." Another school counsellor interviewed by Szego says some girls are basing their self-esteem on "serious" relationships, becoming dependent on the guys they date.

Remember the Sex and the City episode where Carrie takes her 25-year-old protoge to a book party, then later discovers she's a virgin? "Is this supposed to be shocking, wagging one's (rude word) at every good-looking stud who walks by? Please!" says the 25-year-old to a perplexed Carrie. Casual relationships were de rigeur for Carrie and her pals. The female quest for the perfect man (or even a flawed one who would just love you, exclusively) was, of course, the driving force for the show (and Carrie's weekly sex and relationships column for The New York Star). But I think that the positive role of female friendship, rather than how far flagrant promiscuity (worn with Manolo Blahnik shoes) will take you, was the more empowering message the series had to offer.

Young women should be educated about their sexuality, what it means to be a woman and self respect. They need parents, teachers and role models (young female celebrities like America Ferrera, Anne Hathaway, Mandy Moore and Amanda Bynes dress demurely and shy away from the popular LA clubbing scene) to interpret the messages the media at large is sending them about how to represent themselves (after all, cute and smart is just as alluring to boys and men than sexy and flippant). There should also be an emphasis on the establishment of values, whether they be Christian-based, family or other guiding moral principles, with which they can more confidently make decisions, sexual or otherwise.

Yours truly,
Girl With a Satchel

Disorderly behaviour

Dear loyal GWAS reader,

A quick FYI: As Husband has acquired a brand spanking new Mac for our home office, I shall be posting at night, which, in turn, means the more I yabber on to you, the less cuddles he gets – I shall therefore endeavour to keep things succinct (which really benefits you anyway, no?)!

Anyhoo, I have just been watching Insight on SBS. It's a brilliant program. Host Jenny Brockie (a Gold Walkley Award winner for excellence in journalism and 20-odd years experience in broadcast journalism, no less) is a first-class act, mediating between the studio guests better than Oprah (and with far less interjecting with relatable stories of personal experience with BFF Gale). Tonight's topic: 'Starving For Answers', which addressed eating disorders: "the trends, the science, the treatments."

What I coincidence, I thought! Not only has disorderly eating been a journalistic passion of mine, I was also intending to blog about a truly excellent book that any girl in her twenties, and her mother, should read – Perfect Girls, Starving Daughters – The Frightening New Normality of Hating Your Body by 27-year-old American journalist Courtney E. Martin (who is quite possibly the Naomi Wolf of Gen Y).

One of Australia's foremost experts on eating disorders, Dr Jenny O'Dea, was part of tonight's Insight panel. I've interviewed her before and was knocked over by her common sense-approach and pure passion for the subject. She's just undertaken a massive survey of 9,000-odd school-age children (2006) and found the occurence of eating disorders and disorderly eating (i.e. dieting, over-exercise, laxative abuse) has increased substantially since 2002. With all the media-fuelled paranoia about obesity and the subsequent in-school programs, etc., it's no wonder kids are thinking about food a little differently than they did before (say, like, when we were kids: the odd sausage roll and ice-cream was unconsciously worked off with games of chasies around the asphalt playgrounds; not with sessions at the gym – life was simpler then).

The main causes of eating disorders, as identified by the program's esteemed panel, which also included child psychologist Kenneth Nunn and Susan Sawyer from the Royal Children's hospital, are a genetic predisposition towards depression and anxiety, a lack of proper life coping mechanisms (or did I just make that up?), perfectionism (which Martin delves deeply into throughout her book), competitiveness, and a desire to control one's circumstances (which, as a little lady of God, I know is really not possible – the more control you try to exert over your world, the more messed up/out of control it seems to become!).

There were three women on the panel – two teens, a girl in her mid-20s and lady in her 60s – who all shared their experience of living with an eating disorder. Proving EDs are not merely the domain of teens, Danielle Kent developed an eating disorder at age 24. She had finished her uni degree and was working in a good job when the symptoms started to kick in. She puts it down to her will to control – everything in her life was seemingly good (educated, good job, stable relationship), yet she felt she could lose it all in an instant. She became self-focussed and though people started to compliment her on her shrinking figure (such a no no!), she withdrew from social events and stopped catching up with friends – so all-consuming was her fear of food. She says she felt like a horrible friend and daughter. These negative feelings just further fuelled the problem. Every day to her felt like groundhog day – regimented eating of the same foods, excessive exercise. She couldn't concentrate at work. My Lord, I thought, I had/have a scary lot in common with this girl, and I'm sure my sister and some friends could identify with her, too.

Eating disorders suck at your brain – gorgeous, smart, clever and ambitious young women are practically paralysed by them, like caged mice stuck on a running wheel. Martin's book (which you should definitely buy on – I shall find out the Australian publishing details, though) delves into the minds and hearts of young women, mostly in the US college system, who've either experienced full-blown eating disorders or who, like Martin, teeter on the edge of developing one.

Thankfully, Martin does offer words of hope. Overcoming or avoiding an eating disorder may come down to feeding your spiritual hunger (that be the God thing – whatever flavour of spirituality you may choose, you need something bigger than you guiding you in life; we're all just little girls deep down, looking for approval in all the wrong places). It's also about giving yourself permission to mess up. And finding a way to think of food as fuel for your body (food is not the enemy). It is okay to be vulnerable and ask for help. There's a better way to live, which includes sampling the smorgasbord of amazing food out there and not worry about what it will do to your waist line. We all JUST WANT TO BE NORMAL about food; yet we stray far from the norm when it comes to the expectations we put on our bodies. Perfect, schmerfect.

The funding for eating disorder programs in Australia is abysmal. This is something that needs to be addressed. I also worry that if we, as a generation (hello, Ys!), can't pull this thing together (this thing we have in our heads about food and dieting and being perfect), our daughters may just suffer the consequences. I was talking to a colleague today who says a friend of hers forbids her daughter to eat bread and has convinced her she's allergic to lollies, to protect her from the weight issues she experienced herself as a teen. ALARM BELLS! Our mothers have a huge role to play in our self-perception – in those developmental years, they are our first true role models. If they're dieting and avoiding carbs, what does that say to an eight-year-old? That mummy is normal? Then are all those other hamburger-munching mummies whacko?

We have a responsibility to get right about eating and health, for the sake of the little girls we'll all be bringing into the world.

Wow, I have so totally blown out that whole 'succinct' thing: poor Husband.

Yours truly,
Girl With a Satchel

Secret girls' business

You know summer's on its way (at least in Retail Land) when the ads on TV turn from hot-chocolate to skin firming cream; from office workers breathing in cuppa-soup fumes, into Jennifer Hawkins negotiating flights of stairs in a thigh-high flouncy yellow dress.

Switching between Australian Idol and Ugly Betty on Sunday night, it wasn't only Hawko who caught my (and Husband's) attention: the new Bonds 'Kaleidoscope' ad is a visual fiesta (20-odd bouncing bums and sets of boobs) in celebration of summer and the female form, though not in a 'Dove Real Beauty' thigh-dimples-are-hot kind of way. None of those Bonds girls have wiggly wobbly bits to worry about. But nor do they look anaemic or too thin – slightly rounded bellies and boundless energy make these chicks look like good health personified; like they survive on whole foods and sunshine. While Bond girls are sexy, Bonds girls are fun-loving. Heck, I'm gonna pop straight into Myer and buy me some of that colourful cotton (that would equal ad success for Bonds)!

We Aussies have always preferred a healthy look – the kind of girl who looks like she could swim for an hour without signalling to be rescued and run the Bondi-to-Bronte without passing out from fatigue. Hawko, DJs' Megan Gale, the controversy-prone Lara Bingle, the Tozzi sisters, Getaway girl Natalie Gruzlewski and The Great Outdoors' Shelley Craft are arguably good body role models. They love their exercise, and look fit and toned, but eschew crazy weight-loss diets. And men love them.

It's arguably just as hard to look fit and healthy as it is to look supermodel-thin: anyone can skip a meal (please don't EVER) but toned thighs require some serious workout sessions. Hawko, for example, is a gym junkie and loves her outdoor sport, while Gruzlewski gets her incidental workouts running about the place filming scenes for Getaway. For the average girl working a 9-5 job, when most hours are spent with bum on seat, or cramming uni study in between part-time work, it's near impossible to dedicate the time to working out that these aspirational Aussies put in. The answer? Eat as healthily as you can and try to do some form of exercise every day (walking to the vending machine doesn't count) – we can only do our best. Fake tan can do the rest!

May the self-confidence be with you!

Yours truly,
Girl With a Satchel

P.S. The music from the Bonds ad is super-catchy. The 411? It's "Marina Gasolina" by Bonde do Role (classed as "Baile Funk" music – i.e. 'Funky Party'; a mix of "Brazilian funk, Miami bass, electro and punk", as described on You can download the track at, but be quick – Bonds are offering only 1000 free mp3s. You can also view the add, directed by Alex Smith (his profile is also online), and a 'Making of the Ad' clip. The wonders of video streaming!

Curly-wurly Gurley-Brown

I passed some time at the Sydney airport newsagent yesterday, something which I've not done since Husband finally moved to Sydney three months ago. Given there are no new Aussie women's glossies out this week (as far as I know – they like to go head-to-head at the beginning of the month), I turned my attention to the international titles and (gasp!) other genres of mag, including Vanity Fair, which is really just a high-brow version of a fashion mag with a dash of politics and a male editor.

The last page of V Fair (since 1993, in fact) is The Proust Questionnaire, which is intended to give us insight into the minds of the world's most famous. This month's interview subject is 85-year-old Helen Gurley Brown, the former editor-in-chief of Cosmo (she is still involved in overseeing all 59 international editions of the mag), who is attributed with liberating female sexuality, empowering women to man-hunt and pioneering the "women can have it all" mentality.

Brown started her career as a highly successful copywriter before authoring the best-selling Sex and the Single Girl in 1962 (aged 40... and married) and becoming editor-in-chief of Cosmo in 1965. She took the magazine from a thinking woman's title to the sexed-up read it is today. She also created the female editor ideal (Aussie Cosmo editors Pat Ingram, Mia Freedman and Sarah Wilson arguably fit the mould... who will do it next, we wonder?). The Cosmo editor is sexy, ambitious, ball-breaking, hard working, witty, competitive, controlling, hard on herself, a little distant, not afraid of the spotlight and a perfectionist – she must also live and breathe the magazine.

Brown is a woman who didn't have children because they require too much attention, got breast implants at 73, identifies with Cleopatra ("She was a good boss and had a good love life"), believes being a bad girl will get you everywhere, won't admit to anything deplorable about herself, calls people "pussycat", lies ("Telling people they look great in a new outfit when they don't"), thinks worrying about someone you love is the "lowest depth of misery", likes men to think she's attractive, restricts her calorie intake (see bobble-head pic above for evidence) and exercises twice a day. And, at 85, still she's obsessed with her tummy fat (if she could change one thing about herself it would be to "get my tummy to be flat again"). And she hates being old. Her motto? "Get up and do it if it needs to be done, even if you hate it!". Like exercise, right? Read the interview here. Perhaps I'm being too tough on the old duck?

An editor creates the world inside her magazine. If, in 2007, the Cosmo editor is still about snagging men, sexual empowerment, weight loss and looking sexy, then I think the mag's headed in the wrong direction. I mean, you've got to wonder – are the empowered women that Brown has helped to shape over all these years any happier for her advice? Oh, that's right, Brown doesn't believe we have any control over our happiness.

Yours truly,
Girl With a Satchel

God bless you, Belinda

My sister and I wept our way through last night's edition of Australian Story (Mondays, ABC, 8pm) featuring the beautiful, late Belinda Emmett. I'm not sure what got to me more – her personal video diaries, which showed her to be good humoured, caring, positive and strong in spite of her cancer and the clumps of hair washing down the drain in the shower; her performance at Carols in the Domain – singing was her passion and Christmas was her favourite time of year; the out-takes of her goofing around on the set of The Nugget despite hearing of her bone cancer diagnosis just a week earlier; the video of her and Rove dancing to Ben Folds' "The Luckiest" at their wedding (he sang the words to her as they gazed into each other's eyes); images of her at play at family barbecues and on the beach; the way her dad retold the story of her last two weeks and the last words she said to her sister, "Are you alright?"; or the fact that her spirit, in so many ways, encapsulates what I believe is the true Aussie girl spirit – fight against adversity and keep your chin up, love.

Or perhaps it's because she's so much like my gorgeous aunt, who's fighting her own cancer battle right now. Cancer is a bugger of a disease – in its many and varied forms – and you're a lucky person if you've not known anyone who's been affected.

I'm not sure why God takes beautiful people like Belinda away from us, or why so many young, healthy people are being diagnosed with cancer, but I do know there's something positive we can take away from their experiences – like not sweating the little stuff quite so much, spending more time with people you genuinely love and adore (and who love and adore you), and less with those who drain your spirit, finding your passion and running with it, and letting love, not money/success/ambition, rule your life.

Yours truly,
Girl With a Satchel

Picture care of

Made in God's image but struggling against the world

Girl With a Satchel SELF LOVE...

To my mind there are few words sweeter than David's beautiful Psalm for the Lord: "For you created my inmost being; you knit me together in my mother’s womb. I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made; your works are wonderful, I know that full well." (Psalm 139: 13-14).

Sometimes, looking in the mirror, I forget these words and default to feeling yuck about myself, even though I know I am a (relatively) intelligent, creative, energetic girl of God. Those guilty feelings about feeling so silly in the first place, and so terribly female (a joyous privilege if ever there was one!) in the second, are hard to shake.

Every girl bares beauty scars – mine are focused on three areas: my nose, my legs and my stomach. Each of these is tied into some comment made in my formative years designed to strip me of my dignity and focus my energies on things I couldn't really change without a lot of expended time, money and energy.

I'll save you the details (what point to dwell?), but those things hurt. If we don't nip them in the bud early on, they can linger, fester, consume... and they can turn into self-hate and plastic surgery and eating disorders and promiscuity and a general devaluation of your WHOLE self based on your body if you are one of the vulnerable, sensitive ones, like I was...

A cautionary tale

I grew up immersed in messages about the body beautiful. If I wasn't looking at my reflection in the mirror at ballet lessons I was trying on my mum's shoes (note to mums: not a precursor for eating disorders!). My mother is beautiful and slim; I have my father's bottom and tummy (and nose, eyes, ears...). When I was 13, my mother moved out of home. I saw her fortnightly. A deep bond was hard to form.

My dad did his best but had his own struggles. The new domestic dynamic played out as I attended a private girls' school – fearful of bringing anyone home lest they see the reality of my dire situation – and watched Dad work two jobs and have a heart attack. Those were not easy days, so I escaped in books and school and dancing and other "girlie" things.

As an insecure teen, I was drawn to certain media: namely, magazines, which I pored over and collected in my bedroom, as I listened to Take 40 Australia's top hits of the week. Before I knew the Lord, they were my gospels. I lived and breathed by the dictates of first Dolly and Girlfriend, and then skipped on over to Vogue, Nylon and Harper's Bazaar (so advanced!).

Soon my vision of a career in dance became blurred by boys and social events and shopping... every girl's favourite pastime, so I thought. By the time I got to university, I was like a kettle on the boil... all those pent-up emotional issues, coupled by life's disappointments and some bad choices, a lack of sure direction and a perfectionist streak, combined to pour themselves out. I was bulimic.

Unable to control my feelings, let alone share them with a friend (a move interstate at the age of 12, coupled with embarrassment over my home situation made forming long-lasting friendships hard), I hit the books hard, barely coming up for air. I had a nice boyfriend, but knew that relationship was going nowhere. I was screeeeaming for help; but nobody could hear. Bubbly on the outside, but a mess within.

Then an angel: a psychologist who helped me vent my angst and nip unhelpful thoughts and habits in the bud, and a beautiful new friend to share life with, and a job I could believe in with a beautiful network of female support (my people, my people!). The bulimia disappeared. Life was too full of other things to participate in that physical act of controlling and self-loathing.

But the disorder lay dormant for these wonderful interim years; I was loathe to admit, but it hadn't disappeared. Those beauty scars, in my mind, were seared, along with the emotional hurts and pains. All it took to come unhinged was a radical life change.

I had absorbed information about diets, exercise and calories while working, ironically, on a health and wellbeing project for a teen magazine called "Self Respect". That was like giving a crazed fundamentalist a bunch of bomb-making instructions; but who was to know?  

Life pressures weighed down on me – who had I become? what was I doing? what have I signed up for? stop the ride, I want to get off! – and I lost a lot of weight. And very nearly disappeared off the face of the earth. Down, down the rabbit hole into anorexia I fell, grasping desperately for the Lord's help, for some saving grace. Hello, wasn't He meant to save me?

Well, He did. But before He could remake me, He had to break me.

"Surely I was sinful at birth, sinful from the time my mother conceived me," spoke David. "Surely you desire truth in the inner parts; you teach me wisdom in the inmost place... You do not delight in sacrifice, or I would bring it; you do not take pleasure in burnt offerings. The sacrifices of God are... a broken and contrite heart" (Psalm 51: 16-17).

"Stop trying to reinvent what Jesus did on the Cross!" was the message I got from God, loud and clear. No striving, no want of trying, no amount of martyrdom or self-pity could heal.

I had lot to unlearn and learn all over again. I had a self-love to cultivate not based on any attributes of my own, nor on longings for a mother's love (displayed, I might add, in her own way) or a husband's approval or a fashionably slim physique, but a deep-rooted knowledge that I was God's and God's alone, and through Jesus Christ he was calling me home.

And, you know what? All the silly knowledge I had, of diets and food labels and calorie intake and such things... all that useless stuff from my slate, used to control my being and my world, was wiped clean, the more of God I gleaned and the more weight I gained. My mind became filled with God's truths and sweet promises and the other things were washed away.

"I am going to put breath into you and bring you back to life. I will give you sinews and muscles, and cover you with skin. I will put breath into you and bring you back to life. Then you will know that I am the Lord." (Ezekiel 37:5-6)

Recovery takes time. Particularly if you are disobedient, or rebellious, or intent on holding onto your old self because it's comfortable, or, heavens to Betsy!, the newer, shinier, brighter one might be ALL TOO MUCH. What a terrible shame this fear of being someone who could bring glory to His name. Of being a bit too bright. Too female. Too much reveling in God's delight. But what right, what right, to hide such light?

"This is the judgement: that light has entered the world, and men have preferred darkness to light because their deeds were evil. Everybody who does wrong hates the light and keeps away from it, for fear his deeds may be exposed. But everybody who is living by the truth will come to the light to make it plain that all he has done has been done through God." (John 3: 19-21)

The crevices, nooks and hidey-holes where sin makes its home are dusted out, one by one, as God lovingly remakes the work that was wrought wrong by the world: first sit, then crawl, then walk, then run... sometimes, you will fall down again, but as you progress you see visions of way He wants you to be, wanted you to be, before the world stepped in and mucked up the plan.

All the parts of you – the intellectual, the creative, the physical, the relational – start to sync together as you let go of your grip. And the person you become, in unison with Him, is more likeable and more ALIVE, because that person is created in God's image, not the world's.

"The word which came to Jeremiah from the LORD, saying, 'Arise, and go down to the potter's house, and there I will cause thee to hear my words'. Then I went down to the potter's house, and, behold, he wrought a work on the wheels. And the vessel that he made of clay was marred in the hand of the potter: so he made it again another vessel, as seemed good to the potter to make it." (Jeremiah 18: 1-4)

God knows and loves every hair on your body, every freckle on your face, every inch of your being – including your gifts, abilities and the desires of your heart. We were created on purpose, for His purpose: to love Him with all our heart, soul and mind, and the body by extension.

You and I have been made just how he wanted us, to live in unison with his will and righteous ways, but the world pulls and persuades: drop weight, wear this, zap that, run on that treadmill, pop this pill, get a better job, buy these clothes... is it any wonder it saps your energy, strength, dignity, life? It's a useless fight. But God is there, willing always to clean up your mess, take your hand and make things right.

It is such a terrible shame that we are found wanting – someone else's life, someone else's body, someone else's hair colour, someone else's happiness – when what we have been given by God is all ours to enjoy and nurture and share. But it's a project, this self-care, this walking in God's ways – but the more the self-love is cultivated through the Lord, by pressing into His word and singing his praises, the more that love outwardly emanates.

"Your beauty should not come from outward adornment, such as braided hair and the wearing of gold jewellery and fine clothes. Instead, it should be that of your inner self, the unfading beauty of a gentle and quiet spirit, which is of great worth in God's sight." (1 Peter 3: 3-4).

For the first 25 years of my life, I didn't know the Lord, nor the love He had for me, nor His will for my life... and it took me FIVE whole years to know it and feel it with my innermost being. To know thy creator is to know thyself; to love the creator is to love the self, for we were created in His image... and, hello, you only have to look around this glorious world to feel awestruck at that.

To reiterate, "I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made; your works are wonderful, I know that full well." Now, that's something to celebrate!